At the final school board meeting before Delavan-Darien School District residents will vote April 3 on an operational referendum, a heated discussion broke out between one resident and several school board members.
Andy Terpstra, a local farmer, said during Monday’s meeting he understands the district’s funding predicament, which district officials have been discussing for years.
Failure of the $3.5 million referendum would guarantee massive cuts across the district, school board members and superintendent Bob Crist have said.
Terpstra said he comes from the “school of hard knocks,” and if the money isn’t there, nothing can be done for the district.
“The IT program, once you start that, the costs are endless,” Terpstra said. “It’s great—but if the money ain’t there, you’ve got to pass on it.”
School board member Ron Deschner argued the district is fundamentally underfunded and that in order to stay competitive, it has to increase spending.
“We’re operating in our deficit because we don’t get the state funding,” Deschner said. “We live in a society right now where all the (area) schools compete. When you’re short that much in comparison to the schools around you, what choice do you have?”
Deschner then asked rhetorically if Terpstra wanted the board to shut down the district.
Board member Monica Los, who is up for re-election April 3, used her personal finances as an example of why the referendum is needed.
“When I decided to go for my master’s degree, I didn’t have the money in my checking account.” Los said. “Sometimes you have to invest to get ahead. Sometimes you have to borrow to get ahead.”
Terpstra didn’t budge from his position and warned the board that if the referendum passes, greater funding issues would await.
The referendum would allow the school district to exceed the state-imposed revenue caps by $3.5 million for three years, beginning with the 2018-19 school year. Part of that money, $500,000, would go toward nonrecurring expenses: building a new track and installing artificial turf at Borg Memorial Stadium and updating vocational classroms for culinary arts and auto mechanic programs.
The other part, $3 million, would go toward recurring operating costs to maintain the district’s educational programs. It would also allow the district to offer competitive teacher salaries. That part of the increase would not expire.
In the first three years, the annual property tax increase would come to $202 per $100,000 of assessed value, according to district numbers. After that, the annual increase would be $173 per $100,000 of assessed value.
Wayne Osborn, a retired college professor from Michigan who now lives in Delavan, told the board Monday night that he started an advocacy committee called The Committee For Support of Our Schools. He plans to knock on doors, put out yard signs and write editorials in local papers because he became “convinced the district needs the funds.”
In the board’s last plea to Terpstra, Deschner said the district is “working very hard for this community.”
“Our tax base here, our property values, our community all rely on good schools,” Deschner said. “It’s very difficult for us. We know that.”